Peace Negotiations in Paris
After the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781, the government of Prime Minister Lord North proposed a Conciliation Plan, promising to end all disagreeable acts if the American colonists ended the war. It was too little, and far too late. The colonies rejected the proposal out of hand, as their goal by then had hardened into a quest for full independence.
The fall of Lord North’s government in March of 1782 cleared the path for peace negotiations to end the conflict on the basis of American independence. Accordingly, peace talks began in Paris in April of 1782 between American Peace Commissioners John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, who were joined late in the proceedings by Henry Laurens. Britain was represented by Richard Oswald and David Hartley.
Things were touch and go for a while, as the negotiations were not merely between the American colonists and Britain: by then, the war had dragged in France, Spain, and the Netherlands, all of whom had their own war objectives. The Spanish primarily wanted Gibraltar back, while the French, by then exhausted and nearly bankrupt, simply wanted out of the war. In September of 1782, the French proposed a package deal acceptable to Spain by offering an alternative to Gibraltar, but disagreeable to the Americans: it would have granted the colonists independence, but confined them east of the Appalachians.
The American negotiators declined, and offered to negotiate directly with Britain instead for a better deal. That was music to British ears, who jumped at the opportunity to fracture the hitherto united front presented by her adversaries, and to split the emerging United States from her European allies. The British also wanted to resume and enhance their economic and trade ties with their former colonies. Accordingly, Britain offered the US all the territory north of Florida and west of the Appalachians up to the Mississippi River, all the way up to the Canadian border.
The colonists’ split from their European allies was disadvantageous to France, Spain, and the Netherlands. It left them in the lurch, forced to pursue their own bilateral deals with Britain with less leverage than if they had negotiated as a united front. Accordingly, each of them negotiated a separate peace treaty with Britain, more favorable to the British than it might have been otherwise. Understandably, America’s European allies felt betrayed, but from an American perspective, looking out for American interests, the deal offered by Britain had simply been too good to pass.
The American Peace Commissioners accepted the British offer, and forwarded the preliminary articles of peace across the Atlantic to their government. On April 11th, 1783, the Continental Congress issued a proclamation “Declaring the Cessation of Arms” against Britain. That was followed on April 15th by congressional approval of the preliminary articles. The final Treaty of Paris was formally ratified by Congress on January 14th, 1784.